Looking for confirmation of my interpretation of the "6" indication in this snippet. It's in 4/4 time. Rehearsal 10 segment

I believe the first "6", on the third beat, means this is a triplet consisting of an eighth-note, two sixteenths, and then a triplet comprising the last of the 'outer' triplet. The second "6" is different: it's a straight six sixteenth notes making up the fourth beat. This makes the rhythm consistent with the opening measures, which are in 9/8 time: First measures


  • There are no triplets in the first excerpt, but sextuplets. Instead of "adding them up," start with six and parcel them out. I.e., in the first affected beat, "two out of the six" go toward what is printed as a C# eighth note, plus one more under the tie. In the next beat, what is printed as a dotted eighth is "three out of the six." Note, "consistency" with the beginning is not a simple question, since it's 4/4 vs 9/8. Commented Mar 13 at 15:21
  • In other words, as I see it, the two passages are not identical. In the 4/4 one, the B is the same note value as the following notes; in the 9/8 one, it's longer, because it's a true 16th while the others are triplets. (Mind you, all this will blur under a heavy gauzy French layer of rubato, but...) Commented Mar 13 at 15:43
  • @AndyBonner but if you start with six sixteenths in the first affected beat, you either end up with seven sixteenths or the final 3 have to be a triplet across two metric sixteenths. Commented Mar 13 at 16:03
  • Oops, you're right. Hm. Maybe the "6" is an inaccuracy, and what's intended really was a standard 8th and 16th, followed by a triplet. Are there later editions or scholarly notes to check? Commented Mar 13 at 16:07
  • 2
    @AndyBonner The "6" is correct, but there's a "3" missing over the triplet.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Mar 13 at 16:41

2 Answers 2


The two sixes mean the same thing. The notation incorrectly omits a triplet designation over the last three sixteenths in the third beat.

That is, the last three notes are a triplet within the sextuplet, so they have the duration of 1/9 of a quarter note. The third beat thus comprises

  • the eighth tied to the sixteenth, in the context of the sextuplet, accounting for half the duration of the beat,
  • a sixteenth sextuplet, accounting for one sixth of the beat, the running total being 2/3,
  • a sixteenth triplet-within-a-sextuplet, accounting for one ninth of the beat, the running total being 7/9,
  • another sixteenth triplet-within-a-sextuplet, accounting for one ninth of the beat, the running total being 8/9, and, finally,
  • the last sixteenth triplet-within-a-sextuplet, accounting for one ninth of the beat.

I suspect that Debussy left out the triplet designation intentionally because it is clear that the part should be played with the same rhythm as the opening, and he may have thought that putting a 3 over the last three sixteenths would be too confusing in combination with the 6 over the third beat, forcing the reader to make the above calculation. If so, this is a question of sacrificing precision for the sake of readability in the face of the clear intention that the passage be played like the opening, only more slowly.

Of course, he might just have left it out inadvertently, but the holograph manuscript on IMSLP was clearly prepared with a good deal of care, making this explanation less likely.


Your are correct that the two notations result in the same rhythm.

Here are the two segments notated against constant sextuple divisions of the beat.

"Prelude" rhythms renotated

Notice that in the first 6-tuplet of each segment, the first half aligns with the first four sixteenths of the sextuple division, while the last three correspond to the final two sixteenths of the sextuple division. That is, the last three notes form a 3:2 triplet.

In contrast, all of the sixteenths in the second 6-tuplet align 1:1 with the sextuple beat division.

Since my notation of the 9/8 segment differs from the one posted, just know I've taken it from the Frank Reinisch edition on IMSLP.

Urtext "Prelude" m. 1

  • The example in the question matches the holograph manuscript on IMSLP, however, whereas the so-called urtext edition does not.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 14 at 11:11
  • In fact, the edition itself does not claim to be an urtext edition; IMSLP seems to have so designated it in error. Anyway, the first sentence of this answer is wrong: The two notations do not result in the same rhythm because the second notation is incorrect. The Reinisch edition corrects the later passage by adding the missing triplet designation at the end of the third beat.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 14 at 11:24

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